The mayor is openly gay! They’ve reduced police corruption! The restaurants don’t serve attitude! And there are reasonably priced condos available! No, I’m not exactly talking about the meatpacking district—it’s Providence, Rhode Island, the cobblestone-streeted capital city that just sent me on a press junket to sample its brownish hues and kooky contradictions.
A few years ago, you could supposedly shoot a cannonball down the heart of town and not worry, but now there’s some vida in Providence, from the people scarfing down freshly made raviolis on Federal Hill to those ogling the ocelot-print earrings in the Kenneth Jay Lane show at the RISD museum and on various crazed drag queens running around town from midnight to 2 a.m.
Mayor David Cicilline replaced a guy who ended up in jail for almost five years on a conspiracy charge, but who still puts out a marinara sauce, has a radio show, and is well liked for having launched the last renaissance. Cicilline—who looks a little like Tom Cruise‘s porn-star target Kyle Bradford, but more dignified—has also gotten more thumbs-up than middle fingers and gladly told us about it in an informal chat at City Hall. Did he turn the city around? “Absolutely!” Cicilline said, laughing. “Who would ever deny that? It’s like redesigning the airplane while it’s in flight.” And while you’re a big gay—though Cicilline told me that didn’t become an issue in his campaign. “They focused on the important issues,” he said, “like crime and education. That says a lot about the people in Providence.” (Well, I’m from New York, so I focus on people’s sex lives.) His city, he added, is “inclusive and embracing” and offers more than just lip service or tolerance. “Who wants to be tolerated?” he said, sensibly. “Like you’re an annoying sound in your car.”
For entertainment that night, everyone of all sexualities drove their cars to strangely congregate around the town’s three interconnecting rivers for WaterFire, a ritualistic experience at which large bonfires are set in stationary pods all along the water. “This is idiotic!” I screeched, but after floating through the scene in a motorboat, I found it surreally beautiful and didn’t even mind the embers shooting at my face like hot pokers.
A quickie nightlife tour brought us to some real flamers at the energetic dance club Mirabar and the nearby boî
te Dark Lady, about which someone had confided, “It looks like Liberace’s buried under the bar.” (That was intended as a warning, but it’s exactly what propelled me there.) The atmospheric joint had a show of drag queens who can’t sing very well but don’t seem to know it, and damned if I was gonna tell them. (I admit I may be bitter; when the drag MC announced, “A huge celebrity is in the house!” I moistened my lips and prepared to mount the stage, only to have her then say, “ Frenchie Davis!”) But I did love Sasha, a 63-year-old cross-dresser in the crowd who wore an ensemble that his very understanding wife got him, down to the shoes and probably the ocelot earrings. See you again, Providence! Thanks to you, Rhode Island rode me all night long!
In New York—where Providence is a restaurant with $41 rib-eye steaks—we gathered around the rivers of Svedka at the Paper magazine Nightlife Awards at Spotlight Live, which brought together all the open-bar servers and aficionados of our fine city into a giant heap of fashiony frolic and ironic self-congratulation. Host Perez Hilton told the crowd, “Fifty pounds ago, I was one of Paper‘s ‘beautiful people.’ With success comes food and drugs. I’m not doing drugs, but I am doing food.” I tsk-tsked as I downed buckets of the evening’s delightfully chic hors d’oeuvres—cotton candy and caramel popcorn! Also providing sustenance, someone from the Box cracked that his club is the best place in town to get coke. (He mercifully didn’t mention the rapist stationed outside.) But Andre J—the pencil-thin black gender expressionist with a wig and a full beard—didn’t need any help, seeing as he was jumping out of his skin over his French Vogue cover in a Burberry Prorsum trench coat alongside model Carolyn Murphy. The next day, Andre (who works for Pat Field and whose ringing voice could wake the dead) told me how that break happened, Lana Turner–style. “Stylist Joe McKenna saw me walking in the East Village and commented on my ensemble,” he related. “He was on the phone with Bruce Weber and said I needed to meet Mr. Weber. A few weeks later, I headed to Montauk to shoot. The reaction the cover is getting is wonderful. People are talking around the world. My idols are now looking at me. People are shocked. It’s time for the world to meet Andre J!” Come on, world, say it: “Hi, Andre!”
A ton of people who’d be big in France turned out for Halloween, which is generally a holiday for amateurs, but at least in New York we have the most professional amateurs in the world. The night provided a zingy back and forth between Susanne Bartsch‘s colorfully deranged witches’ bordello bash at Avalon and the sexy Satyricon party thrown at the Metropolitan Pavilion by Josh Wood, Patrick Duffy, and the crew from the soon-reopening-in-a-new-locale Mr. Black. The latter event had swarms of hot guys in togas and one Anna Nicole Smith in clown makeup—a pretty good balance, though I ended up hanging in a corner with the Anna Nicole guy all night.
On Broadway, Cyrano de Bergerac has Kevin Kline toning down the clown makeup in order to trot out more sly, cutting wit than the usual bombast, while co-star Jennifer Garner takes the opposite rue. Mrs. Affleck seems way too anxious to make something out of every syllable and reaction shot, which I found painfully overemphatic. But once she has to weave and talk at the same time, it relaxes her and she’s actually pretty moving at the end.
Tom Stoppard can usually weave diverse sociopolitical strands together, so at his Rock ‘N’ Roll, which challengingly mixes Czechs and balances, ushers are often asked the running time. “It’s two hours and 55 minutes,” one told me last Saturday. “It’s really three hours, but they told me to say that because it sounds better!” Put it this way: By the time the woman with one breast pulls her wig off, it’s a quarter to Communism.
I caught up with Asian-American revolutionary Margaret Cho‘s The Sensuous Woman—a hilariously embracing variety show at the Zipper Factory that she describes as “a little bit country, a little bit anal.” But in one of the few stand-up segments flanking all the erotic dancing, Cho draws the line by saying that sucking straight guys’ unwashed dicks isn’t always so delectable. “If I want cheese, I’ll go to Whole Foods,” she moans. “And pussy is no treat either. I’ve had some pussy that makes my eyes water. I need to put a piece of bread in my mouth before I go down on it.” Again—go to Whole Foods!
Or just go the sex-doll route, as in Lars and the Real Girl, which is—brace yourselves—quirky, and which, according to co-star Emily Mortimer at a special screening last week, used two $10,000 sex dolls for filming, one of which Ryan Gosling ended up keeping. Maybe he can pretend it’s Sandra Bullock? “You wanted to make jokes at the doll’s expense or stick cigarettes up her nose,” said Mortimer, “but she was actually intimidating. Her calm presence made me feel I should do the same thing. You seem very wise when you don’t speak.” Quick, someone get Ann Coulter to shoot a movie with a sex doll.
The characters in Lions for Lambs speak—a lot—with Meryl Streep
doing it the best, but despite some stimulating ideas, the result is more like three extended cable news segments than an actual motion picture. The message I got from it was that we must stop the war in Iraq—so there’ll be no more earnestly dull antiwar movies! In the meantime, give these lions and lambs some ocelot print.